Monday, June 23, 2008

Music Lessons

Piano Keys - Click for Photo CreditI started playing the clarinet in 6th grade, determined to be good at it. And not just good, but exceptionally good. The best. I practiced every day. And I excelled far above the students in that beginner-level class. In fact, when I was in 7th grade I was placed in the 8th grade (advanced) band instead of 7th grade (intermediate) and actually placed above some other 8th grade students. By 8th grade I placed 5th in the county, and being somewhat disappointed with that performance, I placed 1st in the district (which is larger than the county, about 1/5 of the state and my district had some of the strongest schools.) A few months after that I went on to place 4th in the state. So I wasn't the very best, but I was up there with the best. In high school I went on to consistently place in the top 3 in district and the top 10-15 in the state until my senior year when I placed in the top 10 at district (can't remember exact placement).

So for those seven years, I set my aims to be the best I could, and consistently performed at the top level for clarinetists my age. In my youth I spent a lot of time alone, in my room, practicing. It took hours of practice. Hours a day. And I learned a lesson: hard work pays off. Practicing pays off.

The lesson has reinforced lately--I don't play the clarinet anymore. In fact I sold it for twice what I paid for it last year and still feel like it was stolen. But I do play the piano. I never had formal piano training as I did with the clarinet, so I'm mostly self-taught. Although, I do think that only a real pianist would be able to tell the difference. Just like I had to spend hours playing the clarinet, I found that practicing piano consistently would make me better. I can literally see the improvement. I can play a song faster, I can play it more accurately, I can sing along. I can begin to perfect it by just spending some time and effort on it, on a regular basis. I may pick a song to play, and really butcher it the first time through. But then I can come back the next day and it'll be better. And I can come back a third day and it begins to feel natural, and each day it gets better and better--if I keep practicing.

This is the lesson--even if I have to suffer through something painfully slowly, just to finish it, I know that if I do finish it, and make myself get through it, I know that putting that effort in will yield marked improvement. I know that regular consistent practice is key, and I know that it pays off. I know it does, I have the experience to prove it.

So for the last week, I have been studying tajweed. There were basically two levels offered by Bayyinah when they were here--101 and 102, but I seemed to be between the two.

The first level, 101, was instruction in the basic letters and accents in the Arabic language. It was for people who had not been exposed to Arabic before, and/or were not able to recognize letters and their sounds in the Qur'an. I was past that--I could pick up a mushaf and read it, albeit very slowly.

The second level, 102, was instruction in the rules of tajweed, beginning with phonetics, moving on to accents, rhythm, and stopping/starting. The basic prerequisite was the ability to read a mushaf... although I think my slowness put me early on in the bottom of the class.

So you want me to say that I practiced for a week and now I'm an expert? Uhh, nope! But since I have been reading Qur'an every single day for about 10 days now, I have noticed that I am reading much faster. Of course, since a lot of time I'm reviewing what I've already read I can read those parts much faster, but even new material I can read faster than I could at the beginning of the class. Alhamdulillah.

So I did take the second class and learned the basic rules of tajweed, and I'm glad. The first class ended with reading single words together. The second class we were reading whole surahs, one ayah (or part of an ayah at a time) instead of sounding out each letter. I won't say that my tajweed is great or anything (it's definitely not) and I'm not proficient at reading either. But I can get through, and the practice is only making me better. And because of my experience in music, I know that consistent practice is necessary to improve performance, and I know that consistent practice does improve it. It works.

And because I am talking about Qur'an now, the book of Allah, I know there are other benefits to making an effort to read it.

On the authority of Abu Harayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (PBUH) said: Allah the Almighty said:
I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than
it. And if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.

The fact that I am going toward Allah (SWT) an arm's length--i.e., by trying to read the Qur'an--means I know that He will come nearer to me--by making it possible to read and understand it. and I know that because I am trying to get closer to Him, that He will come closer to me. I am doing what little I can, but I have the confidence of knowing that even the little steps I take towards my Lord are multiplied, and that He is taking large steps towards me.

So I am practicing reading Qur'an--even though I'm not perfect at reading, and worse at reciting, I do want to get better. So I keep trying, keep practicing. One benefit is that I get better. Another is that I'm rewarded for my effort (of course assuming my intention is to sincerely worship Allah (SWT).) Another is that I can soon read and recite even better--to worship Him more. And that I can more easily learn the meanings, and understand what I am supposed to do. It's a win-win-win situation. There's no reason not to try to read Qur'an, even if it's hard now, even if it's slow, even if I make mistakes. There is only the submission to Allah (SWT), and that is every reason to keep practicing.


Anonymous said...

Amy -- how beautiful is your post!

I am a new Muslim (16 months old!) and, yes, I am also struggling away valiantly in reading the Quran. Having a decent transliteration and immediate feedback via computer-recitation is of tremendous help!
(No clarinet music background, I am afraid!)

However, I do have Hindi and Urdu in my background, so the ear and the tongue, insha'allah, will have to undergo less adaptations than others with only English!

Amy said...

Salaam Faris:

Here's a tip. Transliteration is nice, but learn to read the letters, because you can see all the information which a transliteration fails to show you--and it's much easier to deduce meaning and grammar from the Arabic as well which will help in understanding it. Listening to another recitation is also great, as you can hear what it's supposed to sound like.

But there is no substitute to reciting to a real teacher who can correct the mistakes--mistakes you might not even be aware of. If you practice something incorrectly, you only get good at doing it wrong. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Amy, I will ask around for a teacher at my masjid in California...

BrownSandokan said...

Isn't there a hadith about getting twice the reward if you have trouble reading (pronouncing?) words in the Qur'an and you keep persevering? :)

"If you practice something incorrectly, you only get good at doing it wrong. :-)"

So true! And well put.